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Race, class and British imperialism

"The brutal muder of George Floyd was not an isolated incident or just another manifestation of systemic racism. It has revealed the key role of imperialism which itself is rooted in the development and expansion of class society. Calls to decolonise the national education curriculum and to promote more black people into the upper echelons of economic and political power are merely tinkering with a system that requires a radical re-organisation from top to bottom."

Many people know that racism has its originsin colonialism and in slavery. To deny the humanity of the millions of African people it was necessary to create the vile view that their so-called racial features not only determined a lack of intelligence but made them comparable to “other” beasts of burden. The eugenics movement added a pseudo-scientific gloss to this vulgar racism with systematic attempts to show that black people had smaller brain sizes.

This was not entirely new or exclusive to the enslavement and oppression of black people. Predating the Atlantic slave trade was the Spanish and Portuguese colonisation of Latin America and the Caribbean. The genocide which accompanied this was also buttressed with a systematic denumanisation of the indigenous population, this time using religion to determine that the thousands of different native American tribes and nations, of varying languages, physical features and culture and numbering tens of millions of people, had no souls. The genocide against the north American “Indian savages”, paving the way for the greatest land grabbing operation in human history, displayed a similar racism.

The various colonial wars involving Britain, Holland, France and Spain were waged on behalf of the ruling aristorcacies and a rising merchant class determined to extract as much natural wealth as possible from their colonies. As such it was connected to the feudal period in European history and contributed virtually nothing to the economic development of the colonies themselves.

The British slave trade and development of plantations in the Caribbean coincided with the advent of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism and imperialism. In place of an exclusively parasitic extraction of the immense natural resources of these colonies, the slave plantations became huge capitalist businesses in their own right and generated immense local wealth from the processing and export of sugar, coffee and cotton. In the European metropolises, and in England and Scotland in particular, this provided an even greater stimulus to the development of capitalist enterprises based on shipbuilding, engineering, steel and plant production in particular.

The white working class in Britain had no material interest in these highly lucrative industries. On the contrary, the textile workers (including children), and others in related enterprised, faced some of the most atrocious conditions imaginable, toiling for days on end and herded into the most appauling housing.They were undoubtedly better off than their black brothers and sisters in the colonies, but they were wage slaves nonetheless, serving only to increase the profits and wealth of their masters and mistresses. In Glasgow, home of some of the Caribbean’s most notorious plantation owners, the contrast between the luxurious mansions of these owners and the teeming slums of Irish and Scots workers couldn’t have been greater.

Whilst the racism depicting slaves and black people has always been an insidious ideology – used initially to justify colonial wars – the more active racism in Britain in the 19th and early part of the 20th century was against the white Irish population who filled the slums and who toiled in the factories, roads and railwaysof Glasgow, Manchester and London.It was only later that the signs “No Irish” were modified to become “No Irish, no blacks”.If you were poor and working class, no mattter your colour, you weren’t welcome.

With the advent of the 20th century, direct British colonial rule was an integral part of a new imperialism in which British capital had to expand in order to invest more profitably. It was the same with France, Germany, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Holland, the USA and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Portugal. It was the intense rivalries between these imperialist powers – to protect and expand their overseas markets and territories – which led to the great holocaust of World War I. Suddenly, British jingoism added German and Russian people to its racist lexicon. The Chinese were already there and it was only a matter of time before the Japanese would be added, enough to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The crimes committed by British imperialism during World War 2 were also underpinned by racism, especially in India where the lives of more than ten million Bengali workers and peasants were sacrificed as part of a scorched earth policy to defend the Raj against an incursion by the Japanese imperial army in Burma. For Churchill, these people were expendable even more so as he described them as a “beastly people with a beastly religion” who “bred like rabbits”

It was Malcolm X who declared that where you have capitalism you have racism. Never a truer word was said. In its various guises, and depending on its imperialist interests, the vast majority of humanity are divided into racial categories with various levels of superiority or inferiority. Their entire theory of race is false however. There are no races. No white race and no black race. No Asian race and no European race. No Latin American or North American race. What does exist are billions of human beings with so many distinctive colours, sizes and physical features born of different environments and circumstances. The vast majority of us are working people with a common interest in fighting racism and its parents, capitalism and imperialism. Black lives DO matter because an injury to one is an injury to all. Only by standing up against racism can we also unite against capitalism and get the man off all our necks.


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